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Unnumbered Three

Rev. Kathy Escandell

May 22, 2016
Romans 5: 1-5, John 16: 12-15

 

A Reading from the Gospel of John

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

A reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we* have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access* to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 

ESCANDELL, KATHY; (Staff)90I imagine most of you woke up this morning, excited about Trinity Sunday. Thinking to yourselves that we really don’t get nearly enough dry, droning, abstract, irrelevant sermons about esoteric theological dogma around here, but on Trinity Sunday we can hope. Because of all our Christian doctrines, the Trinity is perhaps the likeliest one to send us down rabbit trails of irrelevance and into swamps of incoherence.

And yet, of all our Christian doctrines, the Trinity is also perhaps the likeliest one to bring striking new insights into our faith, to lead us along broadened avenues of gratitude and into new adventures of gospel living. In pondering the Trinity, we are drawn toward the inexpressible but undeniable majesty and mystery of the God whom we worship and adore.

The prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate begins with the lines:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

What does it mean to believe in the Threeness? To confess the Oneness? Why does it matter if we do? Does believing in a Triune God impact our thought and behavior in ways that impact the world? An abstract theological doctrine might provide interesting dinner table conversation, but the gospel is about more than charming our dinner companions.  The gospel is about transforming lives, about bringing God’s love and God’s justice into God’s world. What does the Trinity have to do with that? How do we express believing in Threeness and confessing Oneness as we strive to be faithful Christians, created, redeemed, and sustained by the God who is “Unnumbered Three”?

I hope you don’t think I’m going to answer those questions. This is where I retreat behind “It’s a mystery! Human intelligence cannot comprehend and human language cannot articulate the truth and beauty of God.”

And that’s true. But we continue to try. And it is right for us to try. It is right for us to humbly acknowledge that we are inadequate to the task and for us to simultaneously boldly undertake the task of seeking to speak of God.

As one instance of undertaking that task, ten years ago, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church received and commended to the church a document entitled “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing.”  Cindy Rigby was a member of the group which produced the study, and it is a wonderful, profound, eloquent work which I commend to you. It speaks of theology, of mission, and of worship, showing how each of those is inspired by and responsive to God’s abundant love. The authors acknowledge mystery, but do not stop there, reminding us that while the name of God is inexhaustible and exceeds our grasp, we are not left in ignorance. We are invited to participate in this mystery that has been opened to us by God’s own self-disclosure in Jesus Christ and in the coming of the Holy Spirit who binds us to Christ. (lines 232-234)

We know our God as triune – as three, yet one – because God has chosen to come to us in the complex, ineffable truth of the Three who are One. We have a rich treasury of language by which we name this God.

Some of our language for God speaks of who God is – we call God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that’s true, but also tricky because each of us has human images attached to the names of father and son, and those personal images can be either helpful or hurtful, can either assist or impede our understanding of what it means to call God “Father” and to call Jesus Christ “Son.”

And beyond problematic personal responses to these words, there is the reality that if we only, always call God “Father,” we risk limiting our understanding of God to human masculinity and depriving ourselves of a multitude of other images which also express God’s love and justice and mercy and strength.

Scripture tells us that God is our Father. Scripture also tells us that God is shepherd, judge, Rock that is higher than I, womb, fire, our All-in-All.

Adding other names and titles to our speech to and about God doesn’t dilute the power of calling God “Father,” but reinforces it. It is precious and profound to be invited to call God our loving Father, to realize that the Sovereign God of the Universe – the Multiverse – wants to be, chooses to be, close enough to us, engaged enough with us to be known as “Father.”

Triune language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is personal and familial, inviting us to know ourselves as created in the image of a God who is intimately, eternally connected in loving relationship. As children of such a God, created from and for community, we are called to inhabit and cherish loving relationships with one another.

Some of our language for God points to what God does – we call God Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – and that’s true, but also tricky because it can so easily slip into imagining and then worshiping three gods who work closely together and get along remarkably well, but you can tell where one ends and the next begins. God does indeed create, redeem and sustain, but not in an assembly line set-up where the Sovereign God creates us, passes us along to the Incarnate God who saves us and then turns us over to the Advocate God for maintenance. Rather, God – the One Creating, Redeeming, Sustaining God – creates, redeems and sustains us. “Each of God’s acts is always the one work of the whole Trinity.” (GLO lines 313-314).

Triune language of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer is lively and vocational, inviting us to know ourselves as created in the image of a God who is active and engaged, always seeking to bring blessing into our lives. As children of such a God, we are called to be active and engaged ourselves, sharing our gifts in ways that bring blessing to one another.

Some of our language for God is sacramental – in baptism we meet God as Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River. At the table, God comes to us as Giver, Gift, and Giving. We pray to The One Who Was, the One Who Is, the One Who Is To Come.

Sacramental language for the Triune God reminds us that the purpose of our words is not to capture the reality of God, but to come before God with our worship and praise.

It does matter that we believe in the Threeness, that we confess the Oneness of God. Such belief and such confession bring us into the presence of the God of Overflowing Love who is with and for us.

Within the Triune God we find our model for self-giving love, our image of community, our life in eternity.

As children of God, heirs of the Covenant, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us say with St. Patrick:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Amen.